Inside Parliament: Last post sounds in Commons for treaty Bill

The Commons bade a weary farewell to the Maastricht treaty legislation last night after 210 hours of debate spread over almost a year, and sent it along the corridor to the House of Lords.

Fewer than half of the MPs voted for the European Communities (Amendment) Bill as it was given a Third Reading by 292 votes 112. The measure will now come under the tender gaze of Baroness Thatcher, who, according to one European commentator quoted approvingly by Douglas Hurd, was the inspiration for '40 per cent of the intellectual content of the Community today'.

Not least among those surprised by this paean to Lady Thatcher was her predecessor as leader of the Conservative Party, Sir Edward Heath. Lady Thatcher's 'intellectual capacity' was 'not a characteristic I myself had noted before', he told the House.

It is almost a year since the Bill was given a Second Reading by a majority of 244 votes. Before yesterday's Third Reading, MPs had spent 204 hours debating it, over 600 amendments were tabled and the Committee Stage alone lasted 23 days.

Recalling these endeavours as he opened the debate, Mr Hurd said: 'In some parts of the House there may be, I cannot tell, a sense of relief that the ordeal is almost over. But as the poet observed, 'even the weariest river winds somewhere safe to sea'.'

Mr Hurd and his Labour shadow, Jack Cunningham, clashed once more over the opt-out from the Social Chapter on workers' rights agreed by the other 11 EC states. Mr Cunningham ascribed the Government's 'pig- headed obstinacy' over the Social Chapter to Labour's decision to abstain in the vote.

Linking Labour's tactic to the party's lurches in attitude to Europe over 20 years, Mr Hurd said: 'They're tired of 'yes' and tired of 'no' and so they're going to abstain. They came here from all parts of the kingdom to abstain in person.'

Not all of them; intervening, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, said 'at least 60' MPs would vote against the Bill because the Maastricht treaty would take away from Parliament the power to decide economic policy and give it to unelected central bankers.

Conservative opponents of the Bill repeatedly interrupted and barracked Mr Hurd as he sought, in vain, to assure them that the treaty was a move away from a federalist Europe. Richard Shepherd, MP for Aldridge Brownhills, said that in all the hours of debate, the House had never returned to the first principle of democratic government and accountable government. 'This is not a democratic treaty. It contradicts 'government by the people for the people',' Mr Shepherd said. The Government was giving more weight to 'highly anti-democratic' institutional arrangements.

Rejecting the charge, Mr Hurd said the MP was 'shutting his eyes to what is in the treaty because he wishes to haunt himself with what is not in the treaty'. Another Tory critic, Tony Marlow, MP for Northampton North, said the treaty was 'a half-way house' to EC control of defence and foreign policy and asked Mr Hurd to say he would not agree at a later stage to them coming 'within the ambit of European institutions'.

'I cannot say what will happen in 1996,' Mr Hurd replied, referring to the planned EC summit to review economic and political union. 'I don't wish to commit this government to what will happen in 1996 or thereafter. I simply say what is in the treaty today, where this whole area is firmly in the sphere of co-operation between governments.'

Though Sir Edward supported the Bill, he criticised the Social Chapter opt-out and took issue with Mr Hurd over which of them was out of date in his attitude to the EC. Mr Hurd said it was those, like Sir Edward, who believed in 'steady integration', while Sir Edward said it was Mr Hurd who was out of date for suggesting that 'the time for community ideals are over and nation states are the answer to everything'.

John Major, at Question Time, had emphasised that the treaty placed no obligation on Britain to rejoin the exchange rate mechanism - an expression which will not have pleased Sir Edward, who favours a single currency. Without one, 'the single market is going to be chipped at the edges, then it is going to be cracked, and then it will disappear', he said.

But Maastricht was not the Prime Minister's biggest problem as he faced an almost inevitable challenge from John Smith, the Labour leader, over the report that millions of better-off pensioners and parents might lose their entitlement to free prescriptions. Mr Smith asked: 'Can the Prime Minister give the House a guarantee that the Government will not make millions of pensioners and children pay for prescriptions?'

Mr Major took the long the route to saying 'no', beginning with an attack on the Labour leader for not welcoming the third successive monthly fall in unemployment. He had 'optimistically' thought Mr Smith might do so. 'I should perhaps have known the Right Honourable Gentleman better.'

'So there is no doubt either to him or to millions of people up and down the country, let me explain to him exactly the review that is taking place on public expenditure. My answer to every scare story Mr Smith produces will be same and I hear he was peddling them earlier on today.

'The Chief Secretary (to the Treasury, Michael Portillo) has been instructed to examine all our public expenditure, to ensure it's well targeted, to ensure it delivers value for money, and to see where savings in taxpayers' money can be found.

'But he knows in doing so he must protect the position of the most vulnerable members of society and that is what he is doing. At the moment the Chief Secretary is being presented with options. He has not yet considered those options. He's not yet selected those options worth further consideration. No decisions have been made. None are imminent. They will not be made until the public expenditure round in the autumn. Many will need to be discarded, but we do need to examine public expenditure and we will both maintain our manifesto commitments and protect the most vulnerable in society.

'Perhaps the Right Honourable Gentleman will now give up his tedious, weekly shroud waving.'

As Mr Smith observed: 'I should have known better than to expect a straight answer to this question.'

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?